Phenom Soto hits HR on 1st pitch in 1st start
WASHINGTON -- After he informed the team of Monday night's lineup via text message earlier in the day, the first player that manager Dave Martinez saw when he arrived at Nationals Park was Juan Soto. The Nationals' 19-year-old phenom was set to make his first Major League start in Washington's 10-2 victory over the Padres, but first, he shook his manager's hand and gave him a hug.
"'I'm ready,'" Martinez recalled Soto saying. "I said, 'I know you are.'"
Indeed, he was. On the first pitch of Soto's first at-bat in the second inning against Padres starter Robbie Erlin, he swatted a three-run home run to left-center field, putting Washington up 3-0. Off the bat, Soto did not think the ball was gone. So he sprinted around the bases -- until the roar of the crowd let him know it had cleared the wall.
As Michael A. Taylor removed his helmet after the home run, Soto did a mock hair flip -- a nod to Bryce Harper -- and wore a huge smile on his face in the dugout. The crowd of 27,890 at Nationals Park was working itself into a frenzy over Soto's first career hit, and Taylor encouraged Soto to go to the top step of the dugout where he was serenaded with a curtain call. He pointed his right arm to the sky, clapped his hands over his head and pumped his fists -- a memorable moment for his first career homer.
"The guys, they tell me, 'Hey, go out! They're calling you,'" Soto said. "I think it was Taylor who said, 'Hey, go ahead, go ahead.'"
• Soto does Harper hair flip after first homer
Soto's home run sparked the Nationals, as they hammered a season-high four homers en route to victory. This was the first career start for Soto, the Nats' No. 2 prospect and the No. 15 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, coming a day after he was promoted to make him MLB's youngest player at 19 years old. He struck out during his pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth inning of Sunday's 7-2 loss, which he actually said helped him for this game.
"I was really nervous," Soto said. "I was just saying, 'Oh my God.' I was just trying to breathe and do my job."
• Nats' academy kids react to Soto's first homer
Soto's parents were in the stands from the Dominican Republic on Monday night after they arrived late Sunday night, which Soto joked was a good thing since they did not see him strike out. They were present to watch his home run, as Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in the Majors since Harper did so in 2012. He finished the night 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
Since 1965, only six players have homered in a Major League game at a younger age than Soto:
2012: Jurickson Profar, Rangers
1998: Adrian Beltre, Dodgers
1996: Andruw Jones, Braves
1989: Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners
1974: Robin Yount, Brewers
1970: Cesar Cedeno, Astros
"He's a special player," Harper said. "We've seen that throughout the Minor Leagues and we saw that in Spring Training, as well. So we're all just excited for him to be here and excited for him to help us out and super proud of him."
A month ago Soto was playing at Class A. After his third promotion of the season, he will serve as the Nationals' primary left fielder in the Major Leagues. Hours before the game, Martinez and third-base coach Bobby Henley were working with Soto on his footwork in the outfield. Although Martinez said the team plans to try and pick its spots for the left-handed-hitting Soto against southpaws, the Padres had lefty starters scheduled for the first two games of this series. Martinez said he wanted to still make sure Soto got into the lineup.
And now it might be difficult to make the case that Soto should not continue to start regardless of who is pitching. He did not show any limitations against left-handers in the Minors, where he posted an OPS over 1.000 against southpaws.
On Monday night, Soto looked like he belonged, adding another chapter to his impressive ascent.
"It's exciting. It's uplifting," Martinez said. "Here's a young man getting a chance to play in the big leagues at an early age. It pumps everyone up. To watch him do what he did today -- not only the home run, but the base hit up the middle, the two-strike hard ground ball, the line drive with two strikes, all those things … that's pretty impressive."